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"Wall Street Journal" Says Feds Gather Evidence Of Trump Involvement In Payments That Violated Campaign Finance Laws; Trump Says Today He Doesn't Know Acting Attorney General Whitaker; Last Month Trump Said I Know Matt Whitaker Is A Great Guy; Whitaker Said In 2014 That Judges Need A Biblical View Of Justice; New Acting Attorney General Criticized Supreme Court's Power; Dueling Lawsuits As Florida Senate Race Gets Ugly. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 9, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, here we go. You're watching CNN on this Friday afternoon, I'm Brooke Baldwin. We have the breaking news now on President Trump's alleged participation in hush money payments, that is plural, to both porn star Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. "The Wall Street Journal" has just put this piece out. They're reporting federal prosecutors have evidence showing that Trump allegedly played a central role in those payments, which means Trump might have violated federal campaign finance laws, if proven. This is big. I want to bring in CNN reporter Erica Orden covering New York law enforcement, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and Elie Honig a former assistant Attorney General of The New Jersey Division Of Criminal Justice.

Let's get right to it. This is an extraordinary nine pages of reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" that I just blew through a second ago. They said they interviewed three dozen people. They do such a nice piece of just crafting the chronology of following the money and connecting the dots. So, lay it out for us, if people haven't read it.

ERICA ORDEN, CNN REPORTER: Sure. The story does a very good job, as you said, at sort of piecing together some activity that was known prior to Michael Cohen being charged in August about, as the "Journal" had previously reported, Cohen's participation in these schemes to pay off Stormy Daniels and also to orchestrate payments to Karen McDougal through American Media, the publisher of "The National Enquirer." What this new story tells us is a more detailed look at Donald Trump's particular participation in directing these payments, his conversations with Michael Cohen, with David Pecker and one of the things that the "Journal" has a lot of details on is an element included in the Michael Cohen charges, that was previously unknown before these charges were filed which was a meeting that occurred in which Donald Trump and David Pecker had a meeting of the minds about what David Pecker and American Media would do in service of the Trump campaign.

BALDWIN: It's the whole way the entire piece starts, right?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think there was worry by Michael Cohen with and we have to presume that a lot of this information comes from Michael Cohen, who has spent I believe more than 30 hours with SDNY, et cetera. I think one of the worries on Mr. Cohen's part and on Donald Trump's part is what happens if Pecker leaves American Media. There were thoughts he was going to buy "Time" magazine at the time, if you recall. They're thinking, oh my god, he knows all this stuff about us and he has a file this thick and can we buy that, can we own that ourselves so that if he goes, it's our property and we get to protect ourselves.

BALDWIN: All the secrets, all the hush money, all the women, doesn't eventually come out depending who is in charge A.M.I. I want to come back to some of the color in the piece because it is absolutely fascinating.

But to you, sir, I circled this whole graph to ask you about. On the Michael Cohen point, when Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violation, prosecutors filed a 22-page charging document asserting Mr. Cohen, quote, "coordinated with one or more members of the campaign including through meetings and phone calls about the fact nature and timing of the payment payments." The unnamed campaign members or member referred to Mr. Trump according to people familiar with the document.

How serious is this for the President?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: It's quite serious. When Michael Cohen pled guilty in August the big boldfaced moment is when he said, I did this at the direction of candidate for office. We all know who that was, the big question coming out of that proceeding was does he have the proof of that, does he have the goods?

It is one thing for Michael calling to stand up, yes, under oath and say it but I think Michael Cohen probably has some credibility issues that the southern district I'm sure is working with. Does he have the proof? I think with piece of reporting by "The Wall Street Journal" does lend a lot of support to what Michael Cohen said.

BALDWIN: It kind of connects the dots. After this was reported by the "Journal" and A.M.I. paid them off and out come Stormy Daniels. From what I read in the "Journal" David Pecker was like, nope, I draw the line at paying off porn stars. So, it then becomes something that Trump and Cohen have to deal with. It's where that money comes from. We remember when the "Journal" first broke the story about this payment, now it shows where it came from.

ORDEN: Right. In the Cohen charges, there's two different elements to what he was charged with. One was the direct payment, fairly direct payment from Cohen to Stormy Daniels and one was a more circuitous situation in which A.M.I. paid Karen McDougal and now it's a little bit more clear as to why those two things happened in a little bit different -- had different routes.

BORGER: They were the bank accounts. I think they functioned as the bank accounts that would be supposedly reimbursed but never were.

BALDWIN: The end of the day, what's the proof in order for this to have involved President Trump, you know, campaign finance violations at a federal level. What's the proof?

HONIG: The proof looks pretty good. Assume Michael Cohen will become a cooperating witness. He's been meeting with the southern district, wants to become a cooperator. There is other corroboration, the tape that we heard, the little snippet that Cohen made and put out there. Backs up some of this. The use of the shell corporation, there's got to be financial documents that go to the creation of that entity. So, you can see the corroboration start to come together under Michael Cohen. I think if Donald Trump was anyone other than President, he'd be looking at a hard time ahead. But there's a separate question of can they indict the President?

BALDWIN: Stand by, everyone. Let me move on to this here. Now to a White House completely caught off guard and a President on the defense about his new acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. It was not widely known among White House staff that before he joined the Department of Justice in 2017, Whitaker repeatedly criticized the special counsel's investigation in interviews, on television. He even wrote an opinion piece for, and yet the White House is totally shocked by the shall we say not entirely effusive Whitaker coverage. Might I direct the White House to The President may be taking a new direction on Whitaker. Earlier he tried to distance himself from the man he made the top law enforcer in the land.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, Matt Whitaker, I don't know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Jeff Sessions and was always extremely highly thought of and still is. But I didn't know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions. He was very, very highly thought of and still is highly thought of.

I didn't speak to Matt Whitaker about it. I don't know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker has a great reputation and that's what I wanted. I also wanted to do something which, frankly, I could have brought somebody very easily from the outside. I didn't want to do that. When Sessions left, what I did very simply is take a man who worked for Sessions.


BALDWIN: You heard the President say several times the President doesn't know Matt Whitaker. So how does he explain this clip from a month ago?


TRUMP: I never talk about that but I can tell you Matt Whitaker's a great guy. I know Matt Whitaker. But I never talk about conversations that I had.


BALDWIN: Let's go to Kaitlan Collins. She is in Paris where the President is expected to arrive shortly. Kaitlan, you report several senior officials are concerned Whitaker may be in jeopardy of keeping his new job.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. They seem to be worried if he stays in the headlines and those are negative headlines, President Trump could sour on him. That seems to be backed up, the President saying "i don't know Matt Whitaker, he was Jeff Session's guy." He could be there for up to 210 days. You heard him say there "I don't know him" even though that completely contradicts what he said to Fox not that long ago, "I do know Matt Whitaker, he's a great guy."

We know there is a relationship between President Trump and Matt Whitaker. He's been in the oval office several times to brief the President, they've had several phone calls and the President has praised Matt Whitaker to people he knows. He also caught his high by talking about the Russia investigation on television, something that has come under intense scrutiny amid questions about whether he's the person to be in charge of this probe. Several senior White House officials weren't aware he had made these comments critical of the probe and they were taken aback when there was so much scrutiny on Matt Whitaker's past comments and they're worried about what his future is going to be going forward.

[14:10:07] Now, Brooke, that last statement from the President was key. He said he did not discuss the Russia probe with Matt Whitaker before he tapped him to become the acting Attorney General. Scrutiny on Matt Whitaker's past comments and they're worried about what his future is going to be going forward. Now, Brooke, that last statement from the President was key. He said he did not discuss the Russia probe with Matt Whitaker before he tapped him to become the acting Attorney General. That's something critics say they do not believe from the President, Democratic critics mostly. But that's something that's going to come under intense scrutiny, whether or not the President talked to him and discussed whether or not he would recuse himself before he picked him to take over this job, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you. Ahead of the President there in Paris. We have much to discuss on Matthew Whitaker, this acting A.G., including his view that judges should have a Biblical view of justice.

And coming up, the one thing Michelle Obama cannot forgive President Trump for. And we are less than an hour away from an emergency hearing on that vote counting in Florida. Details on what's holding up a decision on the gubernatorial position and also the Senate seat. You're watching CNN. I'll be right back.


BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We were discussing how the President is claiming he doesn't know Matt Whitaker. According to friends Whitaker talked to at the time, he got a tip from Sam Clovis. Clovis encouraged Whitaker to get a commentary gig on tv to get Trump's attention. Later he expressed his deep skepticism for the Mueller probe. Last year he said this about Robert Mueller's appointment to special counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MATHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Whatever reason Rod Rosenstein determined that the department of justice couldn't handle this in their ordinary course of work, which I think is ridiculous, I think it smells a little fishy.


BALDWIN: Smells a little fishy. Whitaker also said this about whether there's an obstruction of justice case to be made against President Trump.


WHITAKER: There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here. The evidence is weak, no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case on what we know right now. It all boils down to what was the President's intent, and we really don't have any evidence of what the President's intent was.


BALDWIN: But legal watchers are also looking pretty closely at Whitaker's comments in 2014 when he ran for U.S. Senate in Iowa. He said "the courts are supposed to be the inferior branch of our three branches of governments. We have unfortunately off loaded many of our tough policy decisions on to the court and they decided them." This is what he looks for in a federal judge.


WHITAKER: Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice, which I think is very important because we all know that our government --


WHITAKER: I'm a New Testament. What I know is as long as they have that world view, that they'll be a good judge.


BALDWIN: We've got to talk about all of this. Gloria Borger is back with me. Jamie Gangel is with us now, our CNN special correspondent. Also joining us former U.S. Attorney Greg Brower, who was also the Assistant Director for the FBI's Office of Congressional Affairs.

So Greg, it is you I would like to begin with. These are his beliefs and this is now the top law enforcement officer in the nation. How do you feel about that?

GREG BROWER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I know Matt Whitaker to be a smart lawyer and a dedicated public servant but he faces significant problem now in terms of the way this whole thing went down with the firing of the Attorney General. The problem, in my opinion, has three parts. The first part of the problem is that of public perception. Clearly, we've seen in the last 48 hours there's this public perception that this was a political move by the President himself, which is not the way that the chief law enforcement officer of the country is supposed to be choSEN. Secondly -- the second problem is that on Capitol Hill obviously Democrats on Capitol hill are -- they don't just suspect this is a political move, they seem convinced this was in fact a political move. That pose s a problem for Matt as well. And also, within the Department of Justice itself, with politically appointed officials and career officials, the way this whole thing has evolved I'm sure is causing a lot of questions to be asked within the department about who is this guy and can he lead us?

So those are the problems that Matt, if he's going to be effective as an acting Attorney General, is going to have to overcome.

[14:20:00] BALDWIN: Yes. Let me add to that how he feels about Marbury versus Madison, where he criticized the Supreme Court's powers which established American constitutional law where he says the Supreme Court has the ultimate power to interpret the Constitution. So, here's what Ruth Marcus wrote in the "Washington Post" today, "for any lawyer, certainly for one now at the helm of this Justice Department to disagree with Marbury is like a physicist denouncing the laws of gravity." This is just one of many, Jaime, concerns about this man.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: This is not credible. The President said over and over again he didn't know him. He has been obsessed with the Mueller investigation and Russia. That's why Jeff Sessions is gone. He didn't pick the obvious person or anyone, frankly, in the line that would normally go, Rod Rosenstein on down, he plucked Matt Whitaker from chief of staff to make him Attorney General. So, our reporting and the "New York Times" reporting is that Matt Whitaker has been the eyes and ears of the White House in the Justice Department. He is a loyalist. The question is now that he's in the job and let's see how long he's in the job, will he be telling Donald Trump things about the Mueller investigation? Will he be slowing the Mueller investigation down in any way? These are big concerns?

BALDWIN: Why would he say -- and Greg, you told our producers that obviously he was lying when he said he didn't know Matt Whitaker and we played the clip of him a month ago.

BORGER: It's Donald Trump. He's distancing himself. Whenever be in gets into a little bit of trouble --

BALDWIN: That was fast.

BORGER: Well, Paul Manafort worked on the campaign a couple of days, Michael Cohen, he was a PR guy. Steve Bannon. This is the way Trump operates. When there's trouble, he runs in the other direction. Even though you have it on tape, it doesn't seem to matter. But it really does indicate that he understands, at least, that there are problems with Whitaker, that there were problems with the vet on Whitaker, if there was a vet done.

You know, he was on the board, the advisory board of a patent company that the FTC served with a $26 million judgment, calling it a scam. Well, that needs to be investigated since he wrote letters on behalf of that company to its clients. Trump understands that this could run into some difficulty, that it is running into some difficulty, and what he wanted was somebody who would protect him. And that's what he got because Mr. Whitaker auditioned on CNN and told him exactly what he would do and then was shoved in there next to Jeff Sessions as a mole, as Jamie was saying, and the rest is now history.

GANGEL: Let's add one other thing, Kellyanne Conway's husband, George Conway, co-authored an op-ed that said it was unconstitutional to have Matt Whitaker in there. So, he's getting hit from all sides.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Greg.

BROWER: If I could just clarify. I personally don't know the extent to which the President knows Matt Whitaker or as any sort of relationship with him but it is clear to me that given Matt's prior status as the former Attorney General chief of staff they likely would have had interactions at the White House. Moreover, I think what's surprising to all of us is that the President, that any President would pick even an acting cabinet member without having met that person first. And that I think is what is just not passing the smell test for most people observing this.

BALDWIN: I'm looking at both of the ladies, all nodding with you. Yes, you should meet that person before selecting them.

BORGER: A little job interview maybe.

GANGEL: This is the job he cares about the most.

BORGER: And also, the question is -- some of my sources are saying to me that the President likes him so much, he wants him to stay. Now, would that be advisable or would that be feasible? Who knows.

BALDWIN: As the President likes to say, we'll see what happens. Thank all of you for that. Republicans in Florida claiming without evidence that there is rampant fraud as votes are being counted in the races for governor and senate. We'll take you live to Tallahassee as officials are preparing for an emergency hearing that happens next hour.


BALDWIN: Midterm elections ended three days ago but some races still seem far from over. Take Florida, for example. Vote totals are so razor thin that at least two contests may be headed for a recount. You have Democrat Bill Nelson. He is suing the Florida Secretary of State and Republican Rick Scott is now suing election supervisors in two Florida counties, alleging voter irregularities. Am I the only one having deja vu here?

[00:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Tonight, the Florida recount. George W. Bush clings to a lead but the Gore campaign shows no signs of accepting defeat.


BALDWIN: The vote was last Tuesday but we still don't know who won. The battle for the White House continues this weekend with both sides waging war over the ballot recount in Florida.

Wolf Blitzer there in 2000. 18 years later Broward County is once again at the center of a major election dispute, and Governor Rick Scott has an emergency hearing happening next hour, accusing election officials of fraud in his race for Senate.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: The people of Florida deserve fairness and transparency and the supervisors are failing to give it to us.